Topologies

Playing Dress-up Does Not Turn Me On

Posted in community, origin stories by Cal Stockton on January 6, 2010

When I was in high school, I went out to the midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show fairly frequently, in part because it gave me an excuse to joke about kinky stuff. I would dress up, hoping that I could somehow convey my pervy orientation through the standard teenage goth girl uniform of skirts slit practically to the waist and fishnet stockings.

When I was in college, I let my dance-loving friends drag me out to clubs from time to time, because it gave me an excuse to dress up. Again, I think my secret (or perhaps not-so-secret) hope was that wearing a corset and knee-high leather boots and all that would somehow help me find people who were interested in actual breath play, more useful leather implements. After all, that’s what a dominatrix wears, right? I hoped that I could meet perverts at the RenFaire because some of the clothing booths sell a few collars and cuffs along with the bodices.

I’ll give you one guess as to how well that went.

I didn’t find people who were into bdsm by dressing up. I simply found people who were into dressing up.

I gave up on the idea of joking around the concept and trying to guess who really meant it when they joked back, eventually. I met a guy who shared my taste in literature, somewhat, and who could be silly and goofy and fun to spend time with, and I ever so casually suggested buying a pair of handcuffs when we were talking about what sort of sexual experimentation we wanted to do together. (We were teenagers. Everything was an experiment for us.)

Oh so casual. What a careful light touch. Lots of laughter. Here, let’s take turns. You tie me up and go down on me; I’ll tie you up and go down on you. We’ve read about safewords on the internet, no big deal, let’s flip open a dictionary and pick something fun but easy to remember. He wanted me to top him first. I was still a virgin when I first handcuffed a man to a bed. There, those are my priorities, and that’s how I got my start at last.

It got easier, after that. My college roommate once returned to the room early and saw rope all over my bed. My joking around got specific enough to be obviously sincere. Everyone gossips about their sex lives during college, and I was open enough that it just wasn’t a big deal for me to talk honestly about what I was into, after a while.

That’s around when I stopped going out to dress-up events.

I realized that dressing up is not my kink. I don’t have any clothing fetishes. If anything, I lean slightly more towards preferring playing with people who show up casually dressed in regular street clothes, because it implies to me that they have more in common with me in the real world than the people who are covered in latex. I like people with calluses on their hands and flour in their hair, paint smears on their shoes and honest worn spots on their jeans, scuff marks on their boots and old ripped t-shirts that they’ll let me cut off of them.

(I appreciate it when someone dresses up specifically for me, mind, but that’s something entirely different. Wear something intentionally sexy under your practical long underwear and I will swoon for you even as I insist that it all come off.)

So, here’s my point. There’s a big, popular, regular event in NYC nowadays called Suspension. It has this dress code: “cost: $10 Fetish, sexy attire, suits, PVC, Leather, Latex. $30 All Black dress code: Fetish, sexy attire, suits, PVC, Leather, Latex, Min. All Black”

I’ve never attended, because it’s not my scene. I feel sexiest when I’m comfortable, and I hate the idea of trying to conform to someone else’s standard for sexy attire. I do generally aim to look and feel sexy, but for me that usually just means jeans and a more fitted top. (I’d flag, but no one ever seems to know what black and grey on the left even means anymore.) There are arguments on the value of dress codes that float around Fetlife from time to time, and I just read them and think about how much I hate “the scene” sometimes. Often. Sometimes. I don’t know, I’m just fed up.

I don’t mind there being parties that are not for me. I don’t even really mind that there don’t seem to be any good big dress-code-free parties for me to attend. Mostly, it just bothers me that this sort of thing is the loud and active face of my sexual orientation. I don’t want it to scare away all the people who think, “Gah, being forced to meet a certain fashion standard sounds awful. This sort of thing makes it hard to admit that I want more than just a bit of roughness with my sex, because I sure don’t fit in with that crowd.” I want to meet more of those people. I want to do more than meet them.

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9 Responses

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  1. Anne said, on January 7, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Our local parties tend to have “dress codes” that are loosely (if ever) enforced. One of my friends, a sadist, is known to show up in khakis and deafeningly loud Hawaiian shirts. I’m a blue jeans and button down girl. Only once was a told by an event organizer that my black jeans were not what she meant when she said black pants (I have yet to figure out the true distinction, she said pants, not dress pants, not slacks, just pants). Also our fetish attire and all black attire prices tend not to be so drastic.

    I think one of the reasons is that most of us enter the venue wearing one thing, and change into another. I don’t think I’ve ever been charged the “non-fetish attire” price for my preferred mode of dress, and I refuse to believe that I am some how a less kick ass top or a less fun rope-bottom because of it. I honestly wouldn’t attend a party that charged me extra because they felt that way.

  2. Katie said, on January 7, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    It always had a classist element to me, too – the organized kink scene can be hard for poorer people to break into, and having the “right” outfits is just one more expense…

    But yeah – I think fetishwear can be fun, but as dress-up, not as a turn-on in itself. Certainly not as some kind of stupid uniform.

  3. Saxon said, on January 8, 2010 at 2:48 am

    So mostly the issue seems to come down to “the loud and active face of my sexual orientation” are people who are loud(ly dressed) and (publicly) active. I think this happens a lot.

    I guess the question is: Are you worried that people with kinky inclinations are hesitant to try them because they think it all involves PVC, or do you simply wish that it was as easy to identify potential partners for your kink as it is for ones that come with a uniform? I think the latter is a lost cause.

    But the former question (are people put off by this loud and public face) is a good question. I would be curious to hear if many people didn’t try stuff in bed that they wanted to because of that fear.

    • Cal Stockton said, on January 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm

      Oh, good question! Both. But you’re right, the latter is a lost cause. (Somewhat. People do tend to come out of the woodwork and tell me what they’re secretly into, because I tend to be loud about my interests.)

      I’m inclined to believe that that people really are often hesitant to try things because of that fear. Of course, all I have is anecdotal data from friends and acquaintances, not a study on the matter. But I have had people tell me that until they met me, they didn’t realize that they could explore bdsm without going out to clubs and wearing fetishy clothes and all that stuff. That it could be so easy and close to home.

      I think we mostly hear about it from the crowd of submissive men who try to bully their vanilla wives into topping them. There are a billion blogs out there discussing how frustrated these men get with their wives, because the wives just aren’t into it.

      A lot of the time, I think that’s the very simple answer – many people simply aren’t into bdsm, and that’s okay! It’s not somehow superior to vanilla sex (even though there certainly are people who joke around and consider it graduate-level sex).

      But sometimes I read about the few successes, and those are invariably the ones where the man has reassured his wife that she doesn’t have to wear some sort of fancy costume or deny her own sexual pleasure in order to satisfy him.

      Of course, that’s still all pretty anecdotal.

    • Dw3t-Hthr said, on January 8, 2010 at 7:01 pm

      I have seen people arguing that BDSM is intrinsically upper-middle-class (and therefore classist) because of the expense.

      My experience was that people who were talking about uniforms and toys and stuff are … not talking about kink in a way I understand it, and that partially fed into my weird existential angst about whether or not I was a real kinky person for a while.

  4. Ivy O'Malley said, on January 8, 2010 at 4:07 am

    I do have clothing that I find particularly attractive, but it’s not strong enough that I’d call it a fetish. Leather and silk, well cut, will very much catch my eye. But I too dislike the dress code at many events. From what I understand from event organizers, it’s to weed out the looky-loos and people who just want to gawk at kinksters rather than engaging themselves. However, I’m not sure how effective that actually is. It certainly stands as a barrier to people who can’t drop $500 on a corset, and that’s a problem.

    I am often told that my attire backs up peoples’ guesses at my orientation, but since I’m rather stereotypical in that way (black leather and stompy boots), it seems to be confirmation rather than revelation. I know lots of people who dress as I do and are quite vanilla.

    I do love it when my partners let me dress them up, though. Getting to remake them into startling beauty is incredibly hot and fulfilling.

  5. Carol Anne Caiafa said, on January 9, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Yes. This. I personally am not into “fetish” clothes and that’s what keeps me away from a lot of the “public” scene. Plus, I get annoyed when people assume things about me from my clothing choices, which have nothing to do with my sexuality. I love lolita fashion, Victorian styles and frills. Just because I am feminine/femme does not mean I am submissive, or attracted to men, or butch people of any gender.

  6. Rikibeth said, on January 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    For me, I like the costumey fetish gear, but I’m so USED to it as “goth fashion statement” that I feel like a major league idiot JUST putting it on for the bedroom. Which is sort of a shame, because I love the way it makes a certain someone’s eyes pop out of his head. My solution so far has been either to arrange a date so there’s some clubbing first, or else to wear a relatively vanilla outer layer (long skirt and high necked, long sleeved jacket) to start with and keep the startling, costume-y items underneath that. I can’t bring myself to go out to an ordinary restaurant or just open the damn door at my house covered in PVC and fishnet and buckles.

    Then again, if it’s specifically a fetish event, like the masquerade ball at the Flea, I’ve been known to decide I don’t want to compete in the “more kinky than thou” fashion department, and just show up in a vanilla ballgown. It seems to be just as effective!

  7. En said, on March 14, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    I absolutely hear you on the fetish clothing thing. I really dislike the dress code at the regular fetish party in my area. I don’t like the idea of someone else telling me that anything that isn’t black isn’t sexy (generally, I feel that tweed is an underrated erotic fabric :)). And stringent standards of beauty pretty much guarantee that Ill have a bad time at any given event.

    Also, while I really enjoy dressing up, it needs to be really specific clothing, and geared towards specific people. And that’s not something I can share with a bunch of strangers at a party, you know?


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